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Softball: No. 2 in 2011 National Poll

Warriors return seven starters from 2010 regional championship team

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Complete Poll.pdf

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. --  With the return of seven starters from last year's regional championship team, Eastern Connecticut State University has been selected second in the 2011 National Fastpitch Coaches' Association (NFCA) Division III pre-season poll.

One coaching representative from each of the country's eight regions votes in the poll, where 35 teams were ranked.

Eastern was ranked 12th nationally prior to last year's NCAA tournament and No. 3 in the final national poll after finishing third nationally in the eight-team national tournament field. The Warriors return 12 letterwinners and seven starters from the 2010 team which won 39 games, lost six and tied one, tied the program record for wins, and captured 14 consecutive games through the Wellesley, Massachusetts regional.

Last year's national runner-up -- Linfield College -- is rated No. 1 in the poll, while last year's national champion - East Texas Baptist University -- was picked tenth. Linfield returns eight starters and five All-Americas from a year ago, when they set an NCAA season record with 78 home runs. The Wildcats, who eliminated Eastern, 10-1, in the losers' bracket final in last year's national tournament, lost the opening game of the championship round to ETBU, 5-4, after giving up two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

All eight of last year's regional champions are ranked among the pre-season national Top 10. Linfield received seven first-place votes and ETBU one.

Joining Eastern in the poll from New England are the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (tied for 18th) and Brandeis University (25th). Behind first-team All-America righty Molly Rathbun (Hebron), the Warriors shut out Brandeis, 7-0, in the third round of the regional tournament, and Coast Guard, 1-0 in nine innings, in the regional title game.

Last year, Eastern won three straight games after losing its national tournament opener, 8-0, to Christopher Newport. After missing the opener against Christopher Newport because she was hospitalized with the flu , Rathbun returned to shut out Moravian College, 3-0, avenge her only loss of the season with an 8-1 verdict against DePauw University, and eliminate Christopher Newport, 5-2. Making her fourth start in three days, Rathbun lasted only two innings against Linfield.

Two seniors, five juniors and five sophomores constitute Eastern's returning letterwinner group. Returning starters include senior Katie Dinihanian (Stratford), juniors Rathbun, Priscilla Alicea (Stratford), Rosie Manzo (Hudson, MA) and Kassondra Silva (Hamden) and sophomores Arielle Cooper (Mystic) and Kelly Paterson (Southington). Dinihanian and Alicea are corner outfielders, Silva a pitcher and designated hitter, Manzo a utility player and Cooper (third base) and Paterson (second base) infielders. Lost starters include centerfielder Ashley Sullivan, shortstop Kim Church, catcher Nikki Mustin, and first baseman Katie O'Toole.

Rathbun broke numerous season records last year on the way to repeating All-America honors. She was named Player-of-the-Year in New England, Pitcher-of-the-Year by the ECAC and Little East Conference, MVP of the conference tournament and to all-tournament teams in the conference, regional and national tournaments. After losing against DePauw in Florida, Rathbun won 27 straight decisions until losing to Linfield. She finished 30-2 with two saves and 305 strikeouts in 205 innings and also led the Warriors with a .402 batting average.

Alicea repeated all-region honors last year, following Rathbun with a .393 batting average, 84 total bases, 34 runs and 29 RBI; Silva (.316) and Dinihanian (.300) also batted .300. Dinihanian appeared in only ten regular-season games last year due to a pulled muscle but returned to appear in all nine NCAA post-season contests. Alicea (first team), Cooper (second team) and Silva (second team) join Rathbun as returning all-conference selections.

Under the direction of tenth-year head coach Diana Pepin (207-148-1) looks for its 18th NCAA tournament appearance (fourth straight) when it opens the 2011 season with ten games in six days March 19-24 at Clermont, FL. The Warriors host Coast Guard April 12 and visit Brandeis five days later in doubleheaders.